Vehicular assault as a terrorist tactic

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"Vehicle ramming" redirects here. For the theft tactic, see Ram-raiding.
Damage caused by the 2008 Jerusalem bulldozer attack that killed 3 victims and the attacker

Vehicle ramming as a terrorism tactic is a form of attack in which a terrorist or group of terrorists deliberately rams a motor vehicle into a building or crowd of people.[1][2]

Vehicles are also used by attackers to breach a building with locked gates, before detonating explosives, as in the Saint-Quentin-Fallavier attack.

21st-century increase

The use of a motor vehicle as a murder weapon has long been known both in reality and in fiction, and there have been vehicle rampages in which an individual used a car to attack an institution or attack a group of pedestrians. The 21st century has seen a rise in ramming attacks carried out as acts of terrorism by individuals committed to an ideology.[3] Canadian columnist Andrew Coyne describes the phenomenon as a form of "micro-terrorism," and argues that Canadians "had better get used to... the baffling phenomenon of the homegrown terrorist... who for whatever reason takes it into his head to kill any number of his fellow citizens in the service of his cause."[4]

Causes propelling rise of tactic

According to the American Federal Bureau of Investigation, the tactic has gained popularity because, "Vehicle ramming offers terrorists with limited access to explosives or weapons an opportunity to conduct a Homeland attack with minimal prior training or experience."[1] Counterterrorism researcher Daveed Gartenstein-Ross of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies told Slate that the tactic has been on the rise in Israel because, "the security barrier is fairly effective, which makes it hard to get bombs into the country."[5] In 2010 Inspire, the online, English-language magazine produced by al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula urged jihadis to choose "pedestrian only" locations and make sure to gain speed before ramming their vehicles into the crowd in order to "achieve maximum carnage".[5]

Vehicle attacks can be carried out by lone wolf terrorists who are inspired by an ideology, but who are not actually working within a specific political movement or group.[6] Writing in The Daily Beast, Jacob Siegel suggests that Couture-Rouleau may be "the kind of terrorist the West could be seeing a lot more of in the future," a kind that he describes, following Brian Jenkins of the Rand Corporation, as "stray dogs," rather than lone wolves, characterizing them as "misfits" who are "who are moved from seething anger to spontaneous deadly action" by exposure to Islamist propaganda.[7]

According to Clint Watts, of the Foreign Policy Research Institute where he is a senior fellow and expert on terrorism, the older model where members of groups like Al Qaeda would “plan and train together before going to carry out an attack, became defunct around 2005," due to increased surveillance by Western security agencies.[7] Watts says that Anwar al-Awlaki, the American born al Qaeda imam, as a key figure in this shift, addressing English-speakers in their own language and urging them to "Do your own terrorism and stay in place."[7]

Jamie Bartlett, who heads of "Violence and Extremism Program" at Demos, a British think tank, explains that “the internet in the last few years has both increased the possibilities and the likelihood of lone-wolf terrorism," supplying isolated individuals with ideological motivation and technique.[8] For authorities in Western countries, the difficulty is that even in a case line that of the perpetrator of the 2014 Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu ramming attack, where Canadian police had identified the attacker, taken away his passport, and were working with his family and community to steer him away from jihad, vehicle attacks can be hard to prevent because, “it’s very difficult to know exactly what an individual is planning to do before a crime is committed. We cannot arrest someone for thinking radical thoughts; it’s not a crime in Canada.”[8][9] According to Stratfor, the American global intelligence firm, "while not thus far as deadly as suicide bombing", this tactic could prove more difficult to prevent. No single group has claimed responsibility for the incidents.[10] Experts see a sort of saving grace in the ignorance and incompetence of most lone wolf terrorists, who often manage to murder very few people. [8]

Protective measures

Security measures taken to protect the Houses of Parliament in London, UK. These heavy blocks of concrete are designed to prevent a car bomb or other device being rammed into the building.

On October 23, 2014 the U.S. National Institute of Building Sciences updated it Building Design Guideline on Crash-and Attack-Resistant Models of bollards, a guideline written to help professionals design bollards to protect facilities form vehicle operators, "who plan or carry out acts of property destruction, incite terrorism, or cause the deaths of civilian, industrial or military populations"[11] The American Bar Association recommends bollards to protect against vehicle ramming attacks.[12]

Security bollards are credited with minimizing damage and casualties in the 2007 Glasgow International Airport attack.[13][14] Security bollards are credited with preventing ramming in the 2014 Alon Shvut stabbing attack, leading the terrorist to abandon his car and attack pedestrians waiting at a bus stop with a knife, instead of running them over.[15]

List of vehicle ramming terrorist attacks

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 Issued 13 December 2012. "Department of Homeland Security-FBI Warning: Terrorist Use of Vehicle Ramming Tactics". FBI and Department of Homeland Security. Archived from the original on 28 October 2014. Retrieved 6 November 2014. 
  2. David C. Rapoport (2006). Terrorism: The fourth or religious wave. Taylor & Francis. pp. 150–. ISBN 978-0-415-31654-5. Archived from the original on 10 December 2014. 
  3. Yaakov Lappin; Etgar Lefkovits (29 August 2011). "Background: Ramming terror attacks in recent years". The Jerusalem Post. Archived from the original on 6 November 2014. Retrieved 6 November 2014. 
  4. Coyne, Andrew (22 October 2014). "We can’t stop every terror attack, so let’s brace ourselves and adapt". National Post. Archived from the original on 12 November 2014. Retrieved 7 November 2014. 
  5. 5.0 5.1 Keating, Joshua (5 November 2014). "Why Terrorists Use Vehicles as Weapons". Slate. Archived from the original on 6 November 2014. Retrieved 6 November 2014. 
  6. Daly, Brian (21 October 2014). "Lone wolf terrorists hard to stop". Edmonton Sun. QMI. Retrieved 6 November 2014. 
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 Siegel, Jacob (24 October 2014). "Lone Wolves, Terrorist Runts, and the Stray Dogs of ISIS Why ISIS and al Qaeda rely on loners and losers to carry out their terrorist agenda in the West". Daily Beast. Archived from the original on 7 November 2014. Retrieved 7 November 2014. 
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 Bajekal, Naina (23 October 2014). "The Rise of the Lone Wolf Terrorist". Time Magazine. Archived from the original on 14 November 2014. Retrieved 6 November 2014. 
  9. Mataconis, Doug (23 October 2014). "The attack on Canada's Parliament and the 'lone wolf' terrorist". Christian Science Monitor. Archived from the original on 6 November 2014. Retrieved 6 November 2014. 
  10. Israel: Vehicle Attacks - A New Militant Tactic?. Stratfor Global Intelligence
  11. Oakes, Charles (23 October 2014). "The Bollard: Crash- and Attack-Resistant Models". Whole Building Design Guide, National Institute of Building Sciences. Archived from the original on 7 November 2014. Retrieved 7 November 2014. 
  12. Ernest B. Abbott and Otto J. Hetzel, "Homeland Security Begins at Home: Local Planning and Regulatory Review to Improve Security", in Rufus Calhoun Young, Jr. and Dwight H. Merriam, A Legal Guide to Homeland Security and Emergency Management for State and Local Governments, American Bar Association, 2006
  13. Garfield, Simon (7 December 2007). "Terrorists are foiled at Glasgow airport". The Guardian. Archived from the original on 7 November 2014. Retrieved 7 November 2014. 
  14. "Glasgow airport ramps up use of bollards". Glasgow Evening Times. 22 December 2008. Archived from the original on 7 November 2014. Retrieved 7 November 2014. 
  15. Tait, Robert (10 November 2014). "Israeli woman, 25, and soldier killed in twin stabbing attacks - Incidents happen hours apart, suggesting an escalation of recent violence". The Daily Telegraph. Archived from the original on 11 November 2014. Retrieved 11 November 2014. 
  16. Shingler, Benjamin (21 October 2014). "Terrorist ideology blamed in Canada car attack". Philadelphia Media Network. AP. Retrieved 7 November 2014. 
  17. Brumfield, Ben (24 October 2014). "Hatchet assault on New York police comes during fears of Islamist attacks". CNN. Archived from the original on 7 November 2014. Retrieved 7 November 2014.